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Wednesday, June 29, 2005


A devil's accountant comes to Second Life...

Everything you think you know about your world is a lie. You may believe you live in a free society, but it’s really controlled by an elite upper class that has shaped its development from behind the scenes since its inception. You assume you have a fair shot at making a decent living or having your legitimate grievances heard through democratic redress, but the system is rigged so the elite ever has its way. No real dissent is possible, either, because the elite controls the media—rather, the media is part and parcel of the elite— and through it, all protest is marginalized, all consent is manufactured.

This summarizes, more or less, Noam Chomsky’s sociopolitical analysis of America, as expressed over nearly four decades as one of the country’s most notorious iconoclasts, through copious essay, innumerable public talks, and worldwide media appearances.

It also happens to summarize, more or less, Prokofy Neva’s sociopolitical analysis of Second Life, as expressed through innumerable posts on Second Life’s official Forums. Until, that is, after several months of accusation and acrimony, Linden Lab permanently suspended Neva from the Forums.

Mr. Neva still retains his in-world account, however, where he is an established landholder and businessman. Citing a policy of subscriber confidentiality, Linden Lab declined my request to explain the reasons behind the suspension from the Forums, the motives and fallout for which have been already speculated and argued over on numerous Resident-run SL blogs. Rather than rehash those here, or tread into the quagmire of pitting Neva’s perspective against Linden Lab and the other Residents he clashed with, leading up to his exile, I’ve decided to devote my coverage to Prokofy’s theory of the Feted Inner Core, and its relation to Second Life.

For the record, Neva vehemently disdains being compared to Noam Chomsky.

"I don't reject the analogy of myself as a dissident," he tells me, "but I think Chomsky in real life is far more left wing, rigid, and extreme in his views than I am in the equivalent Second Life context.” As it turns out, Prokofy (who describes himself as someone who lived and worked in the Soviet Union for some years an émigré from the former Soviet Union) has actually met Noam Chomsky in person, he says, at a left-leaning scholars conference on the East Coast.

“In person, Chomsky seemed very quiet and geeky,” says Neva, “with kind of a geeky look of ‘uncool haircut’ and plain button down shirt and chinos. Not at all fiery in his in-person rhetorical style… he actually comes across as a bit mystical and religious with the stare off into the far distance, the pauses, etc.— it's a little creepy, he's definitely a persona.” But that didn’t prevent Prokofy from taking him on face to face, he tells me. “I expected him to put up more of a real feisty fight when I argued with him about the Soviet Union, but he was very mild and almost regressive. My memory of him was that he just sat there and didn't respond much as I talked about the horrors of the GULAG, listening to some inner angel choir.” He laughs at the recollection.

In any case, Prokofy Neva doesn’t buy the analogy. “In fact,” he insists, “I merely represent a liberal critique to the hard left like Ulrika or the hard right like Enabran and Chip and Cristiano, the burghers of Second Life.” (Enabran Templar is a successful robot manufacturer, Chip Midnight, a custom-skin designer, Cristiano Midnight, owner of Snapzilla; Ulrika Zugzwang is one of the founders of Neualtenburg, a kind of kibbutz-style worker-owned collective, modeled after a Bavarian mountain town.)

Further, he sees the Chomsky/Neva comparison as my clever strategy to de-legitimize his dissent.

“See Hamlet,” he informs me, “you'd like to position yourself as the ‘normal middle liberal voice of reason’ and have me on the wacky left or right, but frankly, I view myself as the normal middle liberal voice of reason and you all on the wacky left or right, and in that, I think most people in American society, looking at the tekki wikinistas, would agree.” (More about “wikinistas” below.)

But I do think the comparison illuminates. Foremost is the divisive impact both have had on their cultures. It is impossible to understand the American political scene, certainly on its liberal-left sphere, certainly in its most fractious moments, without being familiar with Chomsky’s influence. (Impossible as well to understand America as it is perceived by Europe, where he is generally revered.) In a similar way, Prokofy Neva has, for good and ill, had an enormous defining impact on Second Life culture. While he has his defenders, his theory also provokes strong social satire (examples here and here), and self-protective spoofing. (Many established Residents now cheerfully describe themselves as “FIC”; indeed, a planned visit by several dozen Residents to Linden Lab’s San Francisco office is dubbed “Planned RL Invasion of Linden Lab by the FIC”.) If it didn't exist before, the very resistance to the concept has almost dragged the thing into reality. (As Resident Elle Pollack recently noted and ironically self-styled FIC member Aimee Weber more or less assented to.)

In a recent New Yorker profile of Chomsky, a peer described him as “the devil’s accountant.” Meaning— depending on your point of view— a demon of conscience who keeps ruthless track of a nation’s sins, to damn it, or a deceitful, self-serving inquisitor who sees only sin and corruption, even in the most virtuous actions. With his derisive contempt of his opponents and his relentlessly inflammatory rhetoric, Chomsky represents the furthest extreme of intellectual dissent possible in a free society. As such, he also represents what is perhaps an inevitable challenge to the very concept of an open community and its ability to foster free speech, when that speech practically clamors for its dissolution.

Others may perceive other parallels, but for now, I’ll leave it at those.

If there’s any key difference between the two (and here I speak from some experience, having criticized Chomsky in past writing) it’s Prokofy Neva’s willingness to suggest tangible solutions to his pessimistic diagnosis. And to offer empirically verifiable predictions that might confirm or refute his analysis. (For example, whether Second Life's population begins to plateau at 40,000.) We’ll check back in a year to see if his prophecies are more Cassandra than crackpot.

For now, for the historical record—and more key, stripped clean of the personal scorn which were consistently threaded through Neva's Forum version, and Residents’ replies to them— the theory that accompanied Prokofy Neva’s rancorous rise and fall from the Forums:

Prokofy Neva on the Feted Inner Core

The Feted Inner Core is the group of talented and innovative high-visibility content-creators, clothing designers, script-writers, architects, and other virtual-world creators encouraged, subsidized, and celebrated by the Lindens since the inception of Second Life. They are the established and recognized elites at the world’s center who provide most resident content and the informed engagement the Lindens require in their software design. Distinguished more by an attitude of sometimes arrogant superiority by virtue of their actual and perceived accomplishments in line with Linden Lab’s goals, the FIC are not all oldbies, and include some newbies.

“Feting” can occur in a variety of manners, from private talks [with Linden Lab staff], in-world to IRC chats to tier-free 4096 [square meter land] accounts and a free sim or free programming help and endorsement of products and projects, to graduating older players to becoming Lindens. The FIC views themselves as the rightfully privileged gatekeepers to the Metaverse and as such are the natural opponent of anyone seeking a more democratic, open, and pluralistic Metaverse.

Prokofy Neva on the "Tekkie-Wiki"

Crucial to FIC ideology is the primacy of the “tekkie-wiki” or collective expert technical brainstorm to collaborate on projects outside of uninitiated scrutiny and “ignorant interference” from the non-cognoscenti; a belief that the world is “all one” and that critics are “divisive”, and a propensity to see any problem as fixable with a technical rather than social or political solution. The FIC are the dissident geeks of real life, who, in an ironic twist, now maintain a conservative, smug, medieval guild climate in Second Life. The FIC tend toward the scientific utopianist worldview even as they romanticize historic medieval or pastoral idylls and pagan ideologies and promote the takeover of daily life by information-gathering technology

There are two schools of thought about how you promote genius. The elitist approach (ancient Sparta) says you select an elite group and groom the select for greatness and privilege through a rigid apprenticeship, weeding out "feebs and choads" as you go. The democratic approach (ancient Athens) says you create a class of forty, you use the Socratic method of education, and you hopefully create the conditions not only for one-two geniuses to appear, but for all to reach greater potential.

Like any company with sophisticated, customized products, Linden Lab will seek out long-term, trusted customers for commentary and that's natural, and involve them in plan and design as part of a marketing technique (this is the 'prosumer' of Future Shock). But given the hothouse orchid quality of this small, intense, and relatively under-populated world, it is vital for fresh insights, new views, other types of minds, other types of skills to be brought to the world-creation effort. You cannot make a society only of elitist tekkies or artisans, in the Ayn Randian or science-fiction vein, and have a pluralistic, robust, accessible and open world— tekkies alone are one-dimensional. SL will stagnate and corrupt if only a certain few beta-testers are continually heeded and not the needs of a wide variety of people in the world are taken into account.

Prokofy Neva on the danger in feting the Core

If Linden Lab continues to fete only these few, many non-technical players who are attracted to mass-culture, entertainment and "softer" game development (social networking, contests/games, non-profit work, support groups, variegated businesses and services outside software development) will become frustrated and leave. Already the lack of entry-level income-generating opportunities and the steep learning curve for tools mastery frustrate many. People do not want to be relegated to becoming the passive and docile consumers of the technocrats; they want democratically-accessible tools for both content creation of a variety of levels of competence and non-technical content, i.e. games, socializing, house-holding, etc.

Prokofy Neva’s alternative to feting the Core

To avoid this dead-end, I believe Linden Lab needs to enforce the Terms of Service equally on the forums and stop its reliance on the much-abused abuse-reporting system, currently owned and operated by the FIC, and permit as much free debate about the game as possible. LL should convene in-world focus groups, both randomly and across sectors, to expand beyond its "FIC sounding board" approach. Regular thematic meetings convened by Lindens and more attendance by Lindens at resident-organized discussions outside of FIC bastions like Thinkers would help them get in better touch with the range of different classes and groups of people in the world outside their original FIC partners.

Lindens need to broaden their scope beyond their recurring endorsement of FIC products and steering of real life media to FIC. Linden Lab especially needs to work hard to protect landowner rights, fix the group tools that make land ownership too risky, encourage rather than punish varieties of events and content and simply get out of the "lab" mode and the "white coats" mode more and realize it's time to stop fooling around with the "experiment" and work to stabilize the world so that it can grow and replicate.

Prokofy Neva’s predictions on the state of Second Life in June 2006, if his advice is not followed

In a year's time, in the worst case scenario, the Forums will be scrubbed clean of dissent, a tight-knit group of FIC types will hold all the key third-party cites for communications and game-related functions like sales and blogging, and will also control mainly gated- community private-island real estate and thus access even to LL servers; indeed this is already the case in key parts of SL. An unstable game/tool space with churning trials and brief memberships, with many players frustrated not only due to performance problems and high-tech hurdles too high to cross, will die because you will not have the basic civilizational substrate to make a civil society. The content-creators not only lose customers, they lose the kind of critical customers with the power of the purse to compel design changes that suit their needs rather than passively accepting the push-media of most free or even high-cost content.

I think it will continue to add members but it will churn and not grow that much bigger than what it is now, maybe 40,000 tops, certainly not going toward a million.

Try to understand the validity of my impressions. You are constantly pecking and clawing at them but listen to what my basis is. I have about five sims worth of land and hundreds of tenants. I listen to them and study them.

On whether Prokofy Neva has any regrets, looking over his history in Second Life thus far

I honestly don't have regrets Hamlet, I spoke my mind sincerely in the light of my own conscience. Why, do you think I should have regrets? I believe that the Feted Inner Core are a bastion of power that brooks no dissent, and that Linden Lab is overprotective of them, and that they unequally apply the Terms of Service and that I am a victim of selective prosecution and far from being a "forum troll" I am a legitimate polemicist. And you know in your heart this is the case, too, Hamlet.

Yes, it is my firm belief that my actions are entirely properly and blameless. And yes, it is my firm belief that the blame for the controversy rests entirely with the Feted Inner Core and Linden Lab. Why, do you expect to hear something else from me, Linden?

I'm sorry not to be repentant, Hamlet, but there it is, it's my sincere belief. I know that I have not done anything wrong. Am I supposed to work this like a Pravda column, where if I express "sincere regret" and "promise to make good to the Motherland and the Party" I get to come back on the Forums? [laughs] I have no illusions that you're going to do some kind of flattering portrait.

As mentioned above, other SL blogs are already hashing out the reasons for Prokofy Neva’s Forum suspension, his behavior, and that of his interlocutors. For that reason—and in order to keep the dialog productive— please keep any Comments confined to discussing the entry. - HL

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005


This week, we are inundated with new Second Life blogs. Welcome Araiya Bomazi, who has a scoop on an invasion of squirrels, avatar drag queen ZsaZsa Withnail, who flirtatiously banters with an astronaut, and Alan Kiesler, who reports on becoming an in-world venture capitalist; welcome as well Rick Nilsson, Jade Lily, and Leon Mechanique to the blogging bosom. Meanwhile, Adam Zaius recently launched SL Blogger, an impressive aggregated group blogging service that already boasts about two dozen bloggers.

Closer to home, I added Pathfinder Linden's indispensable SL del.icio.us page to the left. Pathfinder is also the guy who commended to me Cadroe Murphy's marvelous Grid Viewer project, which aims to create a navigatable 3D map of the world. He looks to be making great progress, as this short video demo attests.

The avid futurists at SL Future Salon announce an upcoming presentation featuring the guy who turned John Kerry's 'Nam experiences into an FPS level, and a former star of NBC's reality show "The Restaurant", who now runs a video news blog.

Zero Grace has a detailed and thoughtful "state of Second Life" analysis, on the second anniversary of the world's commercial existence. Hiro Pendragon excitably ponders the possibilities to come, when SL gets juiced with Mozilla power. Gwyneth Llewelyn also has valuable thoughts on this, along with an epic polemic on self-organization. Upcoming author Urizenus Sklaar (congrats, Uri!) has a characteristically curmudgeon take on the Second Life homepage's experiment in live simulcasting.

Perhaps the biggest news to hit the SL blogosphere in recent weeks was the sudden departure of Torley Torgeson, for reasons not revealed to the public. (My own profile of Ms. Torgeson is here; unsurprisingly, her lover Jade Lily has gone in search of her through the Metaverse.) Her exit brought on yelps and sighs, but I think it's Chage McCoy who best captured the treasure that is Torley:

In a world where popularity is a major compenent of your gauged success, most people's claim to fame is their content. Francis Chung is to Seburo as Cubey Terra is to aircraft. Torley Torgeson is to... uh wait... so what has Torley built? Nothing. And this is what makes Torley such an interesting person. Torley is not known for her scripting, clothing or building skills, she is known for being Torley... She epitomises how sucessful Secondlife can be as a social platform, without the consumerism, nor the technical creation.

Here's hoping for TT's equally sudden return, and soon...

Update, 6/29: Cadroe Murphy e-mails with a correction and a new video link: "I have to let you know that animation was not actually a demo of my 3D grid viewer application. It was rendered in 3D Studio Max. I just didn't realize people would make that connection, and I didn't mean to mislead anyone. In the name of full disclosure, I put together a real quick demo this morning of the actual viewer application, warts and all. It's really just one step out of the proof-of-concept stage - no shading for instance." (Doesn't look very warty to me, though!)

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Monday, June 27, 2005


Re-working the range of avatar expressiveness one cube at a time...

The sexy story of Phil Murdock and Snow Hare last week actually began, as many New World Notes stories do, with something entirely different. I met Phil and Snow during a demonstration of PoseCubes, a new avatar animation technology from Hiro Pendragon, which they are implementing into a new furniture line.

Hiro's goal is to replace Poseballs, the unwieldy little spheres that have become the community-standard method of automatically animating an avatar when the user sits on them. Trouble is, a Poseball can carry only one animation, so if you want avatars to go through a gamut of positions and animations in a single space, the solution is to toss in more and more Poseballs, until the place starts to look like a multi-colored explosion of Nerf balls.

"This is a project I thought up back in October," Hiro tells me, while Phil and Snow go through a variety of poses on the couch next to us. "I saw how inflexible Poseballs were, and how laggy."

His solution embeds multiple animations (up to fifty) into a single primitive, and enables the user to assign key text phrases to each. (And since they're on a prim, they can be disguised as throw pillows or other objects that fit the situation.)

I was skeptical that all this was possible, so I gave Hiro the text of a soliloquy from, well, Hamlet, and challenged him to incorporate some dozen animations into it. In a few days, he came back with a Posecube for me to wear sit on, and built a stage for me to stand on, while I typed Hamlet's "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave..." soliloquy in the chat window, line by line. On every trigger cue, my avatar bounded across the stage or shifted positions-- at "Who calls me villain?", looking around suspisciously; at "About, my brain!", sitting down and thinking furiously, and so on.

"[T]he idea behind the phrases is that changing poses can be worked into natural conversation," Hiro tells me later. "In real life, people fidget, people move around a bit, people cross their legs, lean to the side. Animators can now make all of these animations, and suddenly BODY LANGUAGE is capable in SL."

Because in here, if you want to incorporate the thousand natural fidgets that flesh is heir to, you need to write them into the script first.

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Friday, June 24, 2005


A happy fun land where closets melt into rainbows...

This week until next Monday, the Athena simulator is gay. And I don't mean there's some rainbow flags here and there, I mean it's gay. Like the entire 16 acres, from the rainbow ribbons of light that surround you at its teleport point to the rainbow tent fair beneath it to the airborne rainbow disco dome streaming dance music to the pink Washington monument that seems to overlook it all.

The event is Olmy Seraph and Stoneself Karuna's tribute to Pride Week-- they own Athena together, and so they devoted the whole sim to its celebration. (Unsurprisingly, they're among the contributors to Slpride.com, a site for LGBT Second Life Residents; last December, Olmy organized the stirring inauguration of an SL AIDS quilt.) The week's events on Athena ran from the serious ("Principles of Buddhism/Homosexuality") to the silly ("Make-Over Booth Host"), though the most popular happening was probably the drag show last Wednesday.

"Osprey Therian got 1st place," Olmy tells me. Osprey took the crown with a blue ostrich feather dress, while. "Pancake [Stryker] was in the tutu [the lime green tutu! - HL] and got 2nd, Billy Fassbinder in the Xmas dress got 3rd." (Snapzilla pic of the winner here; way more of Snapzilla in Athena here.)

"This is the most fun I've had in SL since Burning Life last year," Olmy continues. "Barnesworth Anubis' drag show was beyond fabulous, and it's been great to see all the queer folk having a gay old time together. I'm looking forward to seeing the new quilt panels this weekend, and of course the parade on Monday. Mostly, people have been really great about pitching in and working together to make it all happen. That's what I love about this place!"

What I love about this place most is the sculpture created by Stoneself Karuna, at Athena's shore. It begins with a strewn pile of discarded closet doors. Those doors seem to rise off the ground, and in their rising, transform into open frames in a multitude of colors, and free from gravity's pull, move together toward the sky.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005


An experiment in MMO recursiveness...

The first screenshot here is me in Second Life among a typically wacky group of Residents in front of the camera-shaped simulcast avatar known as Video Linden. The second image here is a screen capture of the video stream of us in front of Video Linden-- running on top of the SL viewer.

In other words, you are watching me in-world while watching myself in-world. While watching me blog about it here.

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An SL simulcast and a movie trailer...

I'm not generally in the habit of linking to the official Second Life homepage, but the wunderkinds at Linden Lab just launched a live in-world simulcast there-- just go there and click the Live Video icon, for what might be the very first of its kind for an online world.

At the moment I write this, it's streaming a party featuring an avenging angel, a robot inspired by the Daleks of "Dr. Who", a guy in flying battle armor, four dancing babes, and a white-faced ghoul, most of them dancing to an audio stream of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House". Also, a few of them are waving "Vote on 407" signs, a proposition enjoining Linden Lab to include "a bill of rights similar to the US Bill of Rights to give users something which is their own." In other words, a perfect thumbnail of the SL community.

Over on her blog, Jade Lily announces a new video from Foxy Xevious and Bedazzle, the acclaimed team behind the U:SL first-person shooter. Bedazzle's new project (developed with Eric Linden) is a full-scale machinima Western featuring sets, customized avatars, and expressions-- trailer to it here.

UPDATE, 9:10PDT: Reuben Linden has some worthwhile thoughts on the social theory behind the SL simulcast here.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005


... Falk Bergman, that is, winning the NWN Book Expo yesterday by a handful of votes, thus earning the right to publish the "official" Second Life edition of Cory Doctorow's new novel. All the entries were admirably ambitious in their own way, but in the end, Falk's more traditional prototype won out. Guess it's hard to escape the appeal of a solid book open in front of you.

Falk is hard at work transposing Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town into Second Life now. Look for it at kiosks and vendors soon, in preparation for Cory's appearance in-world to discuss the book in late July.

UPDATE, 2:10PM PDT: Welcome Boing Boingers and, uh, Crap Hounders. Details of Cory's imminent appearance in Second Life and the other book prototypes it engendered are covered here and here. To get a fuller sense of Second Life as documented by this blog, recent stories are on the left bar, and highlight entries under Archives, including previous Boing Boing faves like an experiment in virtual evolution, an avatar controlled by nine profoundly disabled people, an in-world simulation of schizophrenic hallucinations, a recreation of J. M. Barrie's literary world of Neverland, Second Life's annual tribute to Burning Man, and, of course, Cory's first book club appearance in 2003.

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Monday, June 20, 2005


Building a life together from the animation of desire...

Phil Murdock had a hankering for his neighbor Snow Hare; to launch a romance with her, he hit on the most logical solution available to him: he got on his motorcycle and crashed it into Ms. Hare’s living room.

“Break the ice,” Phil shrugs. “Nothing like a motorcycle crash and a ‘sorry’.” He’s a brawny, bare-chested guy with close-cropped hair (not unlike the photograph in his First Life profile), and keeps a nickel-plated .45 crammed in the front of his leather pants. “It’s been love ever since.”

That was last June; their first month together in-world was a whirlwind of clubbing, shopping sprees, and building. Come July, they started creating custom animations to sell. Phil would design them off offline in Poser, then upload and attach them to their avatars, so they could try them out. By that time, however, they both knew their feelings for each other were real and deep, and not just confined to their avatars. Trouble was, in real life, they lived several states and 700 miles away from each other.

And so to move things along, they hit on the most logical solution available to them: they created a kiss.

Not just a friendly embrace, either; those already existed, anyway. What they had in mind was a kiss worthy of the name-- full-bodied, open-mouthed, devouring.

“We stood toe to toe and I wrapped the animation to our bodies,” says Phil. He had to modify the animation to make all the body parts come together just right. He also worked on making it more passionate, with his fingers tracing up her back, his granite body pressing ever more closer into hers. Recounting it now, he laughs. “Every time I tweaked it I got an ‘Oooh’ out of her. Was a ton of fun.” And though this kiss really only involved a depiction of their two animated characters together onscreen, he says, “[T]he first Second Life kiss was awesome and special. Just as special as the first in real life.”

But that kiss came a couple months later. First, they had a business to launch in the lucrative field of custom animations—in particular, the kind of animations that two or more people can engage in, out of public view in the Mature regions.

“We didn’t like what was out there already,” Snow Hare tells me. She’s a delicate brunette with bright eyes (not unlike the photograph in her First Life profile), in bare feet and jeans. They set out creating new animations, Phil working his Poser skills, Snow Hare acting as his model and his inspiration. (And later, she’d make the furniture they’d embed with “poseballs”, a popular scripted object that automatically launches your avatar into a pre-selected animation, when you sit on it.) They created these for their personal enjoyment, but there was also a market out there to serve, too.

Their enterprise, PM Adult, is built on the shore of Innu; an American flag and a giant red arrow point the way into an emporium of their animations, selling all manner of positions, in all levels of explicitness, for several kinds of erotic taste and orientation.

“This is one of our hottest sellers,” Phil announces, on a brief tour. “Watch the book case.” At his command, the bookshelf drops down to the floor, revealing a bed on the other side, thoughtfully arranged with several poseballs, for various couplings.

I ask how many of these animations and poseball furniture they’ve sold, since launching.

“Thousands-- maybe fifteen thousand.” Phil laughs. “Should get a McDonald’s-type ticker on the front.”

“Toys, too,” Snow Hare adds, grinning.

For awhile there, says Phil, PM Adult was pulling down some L$2,000,000 per month, on good months.

The figure makes my head lurch. I actually have to calculate the conversion on pencil and paper, to make sure I’m reading it right. “That's like, uh, $8000 a month!”

“Yeah, about that for a bit,” says Murdock. “When we first hit the scene, was making the ton. But like the Internet boom everybody got it and it’s slowed-- but is still nice.”

Nice also was last Labor Day weekend, when Snow Hare and Phil Murdock had their first real date; for it, they got in their cars and met each other halfway. I ask them if they wondered what would happen, after driving all that while, if they were only to discover they weren’t as compatible in real life, as they were in-world.

“Probably would have just gone our separate ways [if it didn’t work] I guess,” Phil muses.

“We agreed that we’d still work together, though,” Snow adds, “but deep down we knew we’d hit it off, it was pretty much a sure thing.”

And so it was. Their first date lasted all Labor Day weekend-- pausing only momentarily, so Snow could meet Phil Murdock’s mother. (“Anyone who’d take you to meet his mother is cool in my book,” she notes.)

It’s not often that two people who've spent so much time creating simulations of passion get a chance to engage in the thing itself, together. So later on, I ask Snow Hare about the impact of their avatar lovemaking on what eventually became a real relationship.

“It wasn’t the only reason that we decided to move onto real life,” she tells me. “As everybody knows, there’s more to a relationship than sex. But I would say yes, it did have an impact, positive, in such a way that I knew what to expect… before real life, I knew what he liked and enjoyed, and vice versa. Since we were honest with each other and were very compatible, it was easy to know what to expect in real life.”

“[I]t was almost like meeting an old friend and a lot of the nervousness of a first date wasn't there,” Phil tells me later. “This medium definitely lets two people share their feelings and desires for one another and that is a powerful thing in itself.”

So their avatars' tandem love gymnastics really meant something after all. And not just as a catalyst for their offline romance-- there was also that nest egg of Linden Dollars they now had, from PM Adult sales. Phil converted enough of that into US currency to buy himself a truck, and a washer/dryer for Snow Hare. And then he converted even more, so he could help Snow move into a new house—this one only a couple hours away from Phil, so they could meet each other a lot more often, with a lot less travel time in between.

“SL, we just keep on chugging making animations and furniture,” says Phil, when asked of their current plans, “RL, keep on huggin’ and kissing and snugglin’.”

Snow Hare laughs. “As long as he can stand my kids. Hopefully things stay the way they are, they are just great.”

Now that they have the best of both worlds, I wonder if she ever fantasizes about the real life version of their romance while in Second Life, or vice versa.

“Not in real life,” Snow answers. “I don’t fantasize about Second Life. And in SL, well sure, I do fantasize about RL, cuz it’s obviously better.

“Who doesn’t want the real version?”

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Friday, June 17, 2005


A couple days after launch and a few days before it ends, the election in Plum to select the prototype which will publish Cory Doctorow's book in SL has heated up. Right now, Frans Charming's prototype is ahead, with Moriash Moreau trailing by a mere handful of votes. But all that could change over the weekend. Some new unexpected wrinkles have made it a lot more interesting. Since starting on Monday, the prototype developers have often lingered at the site, talking with Residents about their projects, getting their feedback, and improving their prototypes. Djinn Fizz added benches and colorful seats to his, Falk Bergman added an icon command set to his, Frans created a compact version of his original version, while Moriash improved his book's precaching mechanism, and for extra measure, uploaded Cory's Eastern Standard Tribe into his prototype. After so much time hanging out at the Expo site, there's even plans between a few of the competitors to work together on future projects.

Voting ends next Monday, 1PM PDT. If you haven't already, come to Plum (99,163) by then, try them all out, and vote!

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Thursday, June 16, 2005


Making the metaverse your skatepark...

The great thing about the Tony Hawk skateboard games—and this is pretty much true of every great game—is that when you’re finished playing them, the experience is so compelling, you see the real world for a time through the scrim of the gameplay. Spend a few hours pulling stunts in digital Tony Hawk land, step away from the Playstation, and for awhile there, the whole world outside looks like a skatepark, with every banister and railing a potential place to grind on, every sloping wall and street ramp your own private Ollie launchpad.

I thought about this after bumping into the latest Jack Digeridoo joint, a superhip, intermittently dreamy skateboard video scored to Beastie Boys and Folk Implosion, featuring sweet grinds from rooftops of shopping malls, and high Ollies off the glass atrium in the Welcome area.

Damn, I realized, these kids have turned a whole MMO into a skatepark.

“I had used the skateboards available,” Tripper Tapioca tells me, “and I just wasn’t satisfied, so I made my own.” Tripper used to skate a lot in real life, so she had that experience base to work from; for reasons she prefers not to publicize, she hasn’t had the chance to skate much lately. So in her copious SL time, she began the month-long task of creating her ideal skateboard.

Her friend Nucleus Baron put together the eight custom animations she’d embed in her deck-- Ollie jump, handstand, and so on-- while she scripted a skateboard with five speed settings. At minimum, the end product is a fun, speedy way of getting around in-world at ground level—faster than running, without the vision limitations that come from getting inside a closed vehicle. (Tripper Tapioca once rode one of her own boards from Hikuelo to Luna on a single trip, something like the SL equivalent of skateboarding from Chicago to Venice Beach.)

But the real challenge is using the momentum and the ingrained physics of your avatar, to get extreme on the environment. When I watched Jack’s video, I assumed the precarious stunts in them were automated. Not so, says Tripper, who explains the method behind her wheels to me from on top of the Eiffel Tower aerodrome in Gray. (Because after all, if you can Ollie from anywhere, why settle for a shopping mall, when you can do it from a rusty air platform that’s 500 meters off the ground?)

“It’s not automatic, that wouldn’t be very fun to me,” she says. Tripper’s a thin brunette sporting a punk T-shirt and a Che Guevara silhouette on the back of her board. “So it’s all basically skill… like ‘Tony Hawk Underground’ in SL.”

The skill, she continues, is mainly in timing and aim. “If you’re trying to grind a high skinny bar, you’ve gotta jump soon enough so that you make it up there, but not so soon that you miss the bar. And aim… you’ve gotta keep your board straight so you don’t fall off the side. Which isn’t easy.” She tells me she’s thinking of buying a whole private island, so she can create an entire skate city, with some kind of points scoring system, so skateboarders can compete with each other, and themselves.

For now, though, they’ll have to settle with the entire grid as their playground. For that, Tripper recommends confidence.

“If you think you can’t make the jump midway,” she advises, grinning, “you miss and fall.”

Speaking of which, creating the smooth camera shots for Jack Digeridoo’s skate video also required creating some stunts of his own. “The camera you see me holding in the video has a script that I can use to move my avatar very slowly,” Mr. Digeridoo tells me. “It works by choosing the direction you want to move, and issuing a voice command to lock the motion along that axis.”

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